NATO expansion leaves questions unanswered

March 18, 1998|By William Pfaff

PARIS -- Controversy has suddenly vanished in the U.S. Senate over NATO enlargement, where a few weeks ago NATO seemed likely to provide the long-overdue great debate on U.S. foreign policy.

The debate has been swept away by convenient hypocrisy over NATO expansion's costs, and by the Clinton administration's successful re-launch of the enlargement issue as a choice between "appeasement" of Russia and solidarity with the brave Poles and Czechs.

The Pentagon's steadily shrinking estimates of the cost of expansion have been accompanied by ever-firmer assurances that the Europeans will pay for nearly all of it anyway. No one in the U.S. Senate wishes to be recorded as voting against security for Poles, Czechs or Hungarians -- or the citizens of the Baltic republics.

There has been a wink and a nod to nervous senators to suggest that a NATO security guarantee does not automatically mean what the East Europeans and Baltic peoples may think it means. The Article V problem -- meaning the U.S. commitment to go to war to defend NATO's new members -- is to be reviewed later.

Enlargement foes

Many of us have vainly objected that NATO enlargement makes Central and Eastern Europe less secure rather than more secure. The nations that are brought into NATO will feel better off, but those conspicuously left out are worse off, and this is above all true for the three Baltic states.

A better course, which was not explored, would have been to seek an agreement by which the security and frontiers of all the nations of the area were mutually and independently guaranteed by Russia and the NATO powers, which would have meant a guarantee by NATO itself of the independence of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

Instead, NATO's military organization will be weakened by a large and disruptive program of integrating new members and their forces, and the alliance prospectively made less able to take decisions, because there will be more members with a say in those decisions, and more interests -- and fears -- to appease.

Expansion was first promoted as a way to give a new purpose to the organization in the aftermath of the Cold War. As part of the same effort, NATO's leadership and the U.S. government have tried to reposition the alliance for missions outside Europe, in the belief, as Sen. Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican, phrased it, that unless NATO went "out of area" it would "go out of business."

NATO's actual out-of-area capabilities are slender, because German public opinion is hostile to such missions, the French are highly skeptical and while the Poles and other new members will do what they are asked to do, they are not joining NATO to solve African or Middle Eastern problems -- nor to fight drugs, crime, terrorism or nuclear proliferation (to cite some other notions of what an expanded NATO might do).

The fundamental problem in NATO expansion is that by plainly identifying Russia as the potential enemy, it contributes to making the new Russia into an enemy, which serves no one's interest.

George Kennan, who in 1947 formulated the successful policy for Soviet Russia's containment, has repeatedly warned that NATO enlargement will damage existing relations with Russia, and influence for the worse perceptions within Russia of the West's intentions for the future.

An old promise

Owen Harries, editor of the Washington quarterly the National Interest, has drawn attention to the assurances given Moscow during the mid-1990s that if Russia withdrew from the Warsaw Pact states and accepted German unification, NATO would not move eastward.

Mr. Kennan confirms this. He writes, "We did not, I am sure,

intend to trick the Russians; but the actual determinants of our later behavior -- lack of coordination of political with military policy, and the amateurism of later White House diplomacy -- would scarcely have been more creditable on our part than a real intention to deceive."

Mr. Kennan also writes of the ignorance in treating Russia as "inherently and incorrigibly expansionist." This "grossly oversimplifies and misconstrues much of the history of Russian diplomacy of the czarist period," he says.

Expansion is supported by some in the U.S. government and policy community as part of a larger agenda, the so-called new Atlanticism, which identifies an expanding Atlantic alliance as a vehicle of U.S.-led federation or integration of all the democracies, perceived as the next step in a development that began with Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and continued with the Marshall Plan and NATO.

This would seem to reflect a remarkably divided consciousness in the Senate and the Washington policy community. At the same time the alliance is to be enlarged, the Senate displays mounting hostility to the country's existing commitments in the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, Bosnia and in the Kosovo problem. Against such a background, the Senate's unwillingness to debate NATO enlargement seems very strange.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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